The New Power Suit: How Powerful Women Choose Suits to Fit Their Lifestyle

The boxy blazer, calf-length skirt and high-collared blouse are no longer the only choice of the working woman.

Today’s businesswoman has more options, in style, color and sizing. Kristine Sullivan, manager at a Washington, D.C., Banana Republic says today’s personalized tailoring is the key to giving the traditional suit a feminine flair. “We offer different lengths and cuts in pants and skirts. Women are able to find suits that match their body type,” said Sullivan.

While today’s power suit gives women more options to be feminine, sexy and trendy, Washington women tend to choose suits that exude confidence and authority.”The quintessential DC business woman would be in a pants suit, probably black or grey,” said Sullivan.

For many women, having one good suit can be the key to landing a new job. A comfortable suit with a flattering fit may give a nervous interviewee an extra boost of confidence.

Stacey Levy, who moved to Washington for a job six years ago, recently was shopping for a new suit at a downtown Macy’s department store.

“Suits can be expensive. I want something that I can wear for years,” said the 31-year-old, who works at a law firm. That wasn’t the only reason she chose the classic navy-blue Calvin Klein pants suit. Levy is climbing the corporate ladder, and she’d rather do it in a conservative pants suit than four-inch heels and a mini.

“Most corporate jobs just don’t allow you to wear the trendy work shorts or wrap dresses that are in,” said Levy.

Macy’s suit manager, LaRue LaRue (cq: LaRue LaRue) agrees. “Hemlines are getting shorter and suits are more tailored. They have a dual purpose,” she said “Now you can take off the blazer and go for drinks after work. But these types [of suits] are sold to a younger crowd.”

LaRue noted that most Washington women in positions of power opt for suits similar to the one Levy chose. But that doesn’t mean that every woman in the nation’s capital looks the same. The female business crowd tends to make fashion statements with subtle, accents and feminine details.

“Lately we have seen more feminine suiting coming in, but still sticking to the overall classic lines and colors,” said Krystina Lafontant, an associate at Anne Taylor. The “lady suit” with small bows on the pockets and embellished buttons as well as suits with three-quarter-length sleeves and slightly flared “tulip” skirts are gaining popularity, she said.

While the Washington woman stays classic and confident, women in other parts of the country find suits to fit their lifestyle. Peggy Lanigan of Bloomingdales in Chicago wrote in an email interview that versatility is a key factor when women in Chicago choose suits. “With our unpredictable weather, being able to take a suit from late spring to summer to early fall, with a few key changes in accessories…shoes, handbag, jewelry, and underpinnings, is fantastic.”

Kim Turner, owner of Flaunt Boutique in Chicago said in a telephone interview that Midwest styles are similar to conservative Washington. While some women are taking chances by wearing things like the trendy “city short” to work, most women prefer skirts and slacks in darker colors and pinstripes.

In New York, trendsetters tend to shell out more cash for a suit that makes a statement. In a city where the fashion-conscious crowd easily spends $400 on a pair of shoes, many New York women will spend a few thousand on a designer suit.

Designers like Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and Carolina Herrera provide New Yorkers with tasteful suiting at top-shelf prices. Many designers’ flagship stores are in Manhattan, so women there get the first glance at new fashion. Whether they decide to purchase a designer suit or just go window- shopping, New York women take fashion cues from some of the world’s top designers.

In San Francisco, women’s suiting tends to be as professional as East Coast cities while providing more flexibility and creativity. Janice Paredece, design coordinator at the San Francisco Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), said in a telephone interview that current trends allow women to do more. “The traditional suit is gone by the wayside,” she said. Unmatched skirts and tops and cuts that flatter a woman’s curves are all becoming more common among women in the Bay Area.

Women are also taking style inspiration from men’s suiting. Deborah Johnson of Emporio Armani in San Francisco named tuxedo inspired pants-suits as a growing trend. Shimmery satin accents and tailored waistlines keep this power suit feminine while still maintaining authority and professionalism.

Atlanta’s business woman takes comfort in suits that take her through the warm climate of the South. In a telephone interview, Kia Walker of Jeffrey Atlanta boutique said fabric choice is important when choosing suits in Atlanta. Lightweight fabrics like “cool wool” are both comfortable in the heat and travel-friendly.